Still Left Behind — Pathways to Inclusive Education for Girls with Disabilities

15 June 2017

Only 10% of disabled children in developing countries go to school. 1% of disabled women worldwide are literate.  We've been working in Kenya to help over 2,100 disabled girls into education, training almost 700 teachers in 50 primary schools.Girls with disabilities in developing countries are effectively unseen and unheard and are often not benefiting from international efforts to improve access to education in developing countries. 

Globally, 263 million children between the ages of six and 17 are out of school, 61 million of which are of primary school age (six-11 years)*.  More than half of the total figure live in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia.

Of the 25 million children who will never start school, 15 million are girls.*

In developing countries, 90% of children with disabilities do not attend school.**

UN (United Nations) figures estimate that 62 million young people worldwide lack basic literacy skills.

The picture for disabled girls is even bleaker. UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) statistics show that while the literacy rate for adults with disabilities is 3%, just 1% of women with disabilities are literate. 

This extremely vulnerable group continue to face exclusion from education and risks such as sexual violence — perhaps because they are seen as ‘helpless, asexual, and powerless’.  

Disabled girls are almost ‘invisible’ in existing education programmes with almost no evidence of effective help being available for them, according to new research by Leonard Cheshire Disability.

The charity are presenting the findings of Still Left Behind: Pathways to Inclusive Education for Girls with Disabilities today in New York at the United Nations. UNGEI (the UN’s Girls Education Initiative) and The World Bank are among organisations backing the findings.

Leonard Cheshire directly supports around 12,000 disabled children and adults each year to access education and employment and has supported 23,000 children with disabilities to go through inclusive education projects in Africa and Asia.  It is one of the few organisations running international programmes specifically aimed at helping disabled girls.

But few international educational programmes specifically target girls with disabilities.  Analysis found ‘woefully little evidence’ of good practice that is ‘publicly available and shared’, or data on effectiveness.

Interviews and a survey with managers from 20 organisations working to support educational access found just one in three (seven) could provide any information that related to girls with disabilities.

The few evaluation reports that were available often did not distinguish between the education outcomes and experiences of disabled girls compared to disabled boys. 

Some families resist sending their disabled daughters to school because of fears about their safety or in a bid to protect them from sexual violence. Girls with disabilities experience attacks and exploitation at much higher rates than other children. 

Cultural stigma and lack of awareness may mean families do not enrol disabled girls in schools. In extreme cases they are hidden as a result of family shame. 

Teachers’ low expectations can also hold back girls with disabilities even if they get a school place. Often they lose out to disabled boys on available assistive devices, rehabilitation or special education services.  Both disability inclusion and gender equality are key factors in achieving inclusive education as both gender and disability are significant factors of exclusion. 

Funded by £2.8 million from the DFID’s (Department for International Development) Girls Education Challenge, Leonard Cheshire has supported the identification and enrolment of more than 2,000 girls with disabilities in 50 primary schools across the Nyanza Lake Region of Kenya.

Still Left Behind — Pathways to Inclusive Education for Girls with Disabilities makes a number of recommendations, including: investment in inclusive schools and classrooms, equity focused planning and monitoring, as well as incorporating the needs of girls specifically in efforts to help disabled people access education.

Commenting on the report, Tiziana Oliva, international director at Leonard Cheshire Disability said:

‘Our international work continues to break down the barriers that can still prevent children getting an education in developing countries.

‘All too often the programmes that exist do not acknowledge the very specific plight of disabled girls.

‘The opportunity to present these findings at a high profile global forum will further highlight our on-going programmes in this area and demonstrate the potential of strategic collaborations.’

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Notes to editors

  • The Tenth Conference of the States Parties to the CPRD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities)

    • The CRPD is a UN international human rights treaty intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law.  

    • The Convention has served as the major catalyst in the global movement from viewing persons with disabilities as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing them as full and equal members of society, with human rights. It is also the only UN human rights instrument with an explicit sustainable development dimension. Programmes promoting inclusion and equity in education, current gender gaps in data available, as well as promising approaches to addressing barriers in access to education will be among discussions at the conference.

  • Leonard Cheshire Disability

    • Leonard Cheshire Disability is an international organisation with over 65 years’ experience, five regional offices in Africa and Asia and a deeply rooted network of over 200 Leonard Cheshire Global Alliance members in 54 countries.

    • Leonard Cheshire Disability works worldwide to create a society in which every person is equally valued, ensuring that persons with disabilities have equal opportunity to achieve their full potential by living independently, contributing economically, and participating fully and equitably in society, working with a range of stakeholders and in close collaboration with Leonard Cheshire Global Alliance members. 

  • UNGEI (United Nations Girls Education Initiative)

    • UNGEI is a multi-stakeholder partnership committed to improving the quality and availability of girls’ education and contributing to the empowerment of girls and women through transformative education. UNGEI is an advocacy-oriented partnership comprising of 24 global and regional partners, 4 regional partnerships and nearly 50 associated country partnerships, as well as a far-reaching global network.


  • * Plan International 
  • ** UNICEF